La MaMa presents H.M. Koutoukas' WHEN CLOWNS PLAY HAMLET, A 1964 Bitter Camp, with music composed by Joseph Blunt, directed by Ozzie Rodriguez. As part of the "Homecomings" Anniversary Season La MaMa is honoring Ellen Stewart, Harry Koutoukas and Tom O'Horgan. The production will be performed by members of The Great Jones Repertory Company May 24 thru June 3, 2012 in La MaMa's First Floor Theatre.
The late H.M. Koutoukas (1937-2010) was the prolific playwright who helped create Off-Off Broadway theater in the 1960's with his wildly surreal style of drama, specializing in absurdist plays that he called "camps." In 1966, Koutoukas received an OBIE Special Citation "For the style and energy of his assaults on the theatre in both playwrighting and production."
La MaMa veterans, Ozzie Rodriguez (director), Joseph Blunt (composer), Sally Lesser (costumes), Jeff Nash (lighting) and members of The Great Jones Repertory Company have gathered in celebration of La MaMa's 50th Anniversary Homecoming Season. The current production is performed by members of Great Jones Repertory: Obie winner Ching Valdes-Aran, Matt Nasser, and Sarah Galassini.
Three Star Circus performers reduced to the status of Clowns rehearse their "act" in the backyard of a second-rate circus. Our heroes are forced to confront "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" to save their way of life when a wild animal escapes and the circus is threatened. Armed with music and humor they perform their beloved "Clown Act" and find the courage to face insurmountable odds.
"When Clowns Play Hamlet" was written in 1964 and first produced at La MaMa in 1967 in The Loft at 122 2nd Avenue (where La MaMa resided before Ellen Stewart moved the Café to its permanent home at 74A East 4th Street.) Koutoukas was famous for presenting highly stylized characters, equipped with arch dialogue and setting them loose in outlandish situations. Harry produced plays at a furious rate which premièred at Café Cino, La MaMa, Judson Poets, Theatre for the New City, and most of the birthplaces of Off-Off Broadway.
Off-Off Broadway legend has it that Harry wrote this play for the actor Jeff Weiss. It was first directed by Harry with music composed by Cosmo and played by Tom O'Horgan (director of "Hair, "Jesus Christ Superstar"). The original cast included Jeff Weiss, Mary Boland and Beverly Grand. In the early 60's Harry ran a theater workshop called The School for Gargoyles. The school's alumni include Gerome Ragni and James Rado (Hair), Tom O'Horgan (director), and actor/playwright Harvey Fierstein. Along with Lanford Wilson, Tom Eyen, Doric Wilson, and Robert Patrick, Koutoukas was one of the playwrights who made Café Cino's reputation as Off-Off Broadway's founding theater.
In 1975 La MaMa resident director Ozzie Rodriguez mounted two productions of "Clowns," (one in Spanish and one in English) to celebrate the opening of the Duo Theater. The Duo Theater Company, many of whom were gifted Cuban artists exiled from their country after the revolution, had been formed by Manuel Martin and Magali Alabau to create and perform classical and new bi-lingual theatrical works. Ellen Stewart's La MaMa had been the umbrella organization for the fledgling Duo Theater.
La MaMa is a remarkable arts institution with a world-wide reputation for producing cutting-edge work in theater, dance, performance art, and music. Founded in 1961 by theater pioneer and legend, Ellen Stewart, La MaMa has produced and presented more than 3,000 theatrical productions to date and is a vital part of the fabric of cultural life in New York City and around the world.